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The Villages returns to its origin, buying mobile home lots in first community

This mobile home in The Villages Orange Blossom Gardens is for sale for $124,000.
This mobile home in The Villages Orange Blossom Gardens is for sale for $124,000. (Realty.com)

The Villages has come full circle.

Even as it sells what it says is the last phase of the sprawling retirement community, Pine Ridge, it has started redeveloping its first Florida community, Orange Blossom Gardens, a mobile home park in Northern Lake County off U.S. 441.

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"It is revitalizing redevelopment," said Thad Carroll, Lady Lake's growth management director.

The Villages is buying mobile homes in the community, annexing the land into the City of Lady Lake from Lake County, then rezoning it to allow traditional stick-built homes in the process, Carroll said.

So far 21 parcels in Orange Blossom Gardens have been brought to Lady Lake for the process, Carroll said. There were 11 applications in the first wave, in October, three in the second and seven in the process now.

Carroll said most of the mobile homes are 1980's vintage and showing their age.

After the annexation and rezoning, The Villages has been pulling permits to build site-built homes on the former mobile home lots, he said.

Carroll is not sure how many more rezonings from Orange Blossom Gardens will come to the city.

"We are not aware of how many they have under contract," he said.

The process is good for Lady Lake because it builds a bigger tax base, one that has greater value than the mobile homes that were on the land.

Orange Blossom Groves started in 1959 when Harold Schwartz, a Midwesterner, bought a few thousand acres of scrubland south of Ocala and started selling the lots by mail. Mail order land sales were eventually outlawed, and Schwartz moved down to Lake County and started selling mobile home lots in person.

Eventually he recruited his son, Gary Morse, to come help with the business in the early 1980s. Morse decided selling site-built homes would be the better bet, and The Villages was born.

The Villages development was goosed with the creation of a financial borrowing vehicle called Community Development Bonds. The bonds are issued and sold and the proceeds are used to build the development. Typically, the future homeowners then pay off the loans over time.

The Villages was contacted for this story but did not respond by late Wednesday.

The organization rarely comments on its business to the media. Teresa Burney can be reached at 352-455-1955 or at Teresaburney4@gmail.com. Follow GrowthSpotter on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

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